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New team, new role, new opportunity. Several teams have added key skill players that you need to be aware of as you prep for your fantasy football league. Here is a division-by-division rundown of the AFC teams and their meaningful moves.
Buffalo Bills – The Bills made a trade this past week sending wide receiver Lee Evans to the Baltimore Ravens for a draft pick. Evans’ numbers had declined since a career year in 2006, and the Bills decided to move in another direction with their receivers. The trade solidifies Stevie Johnson’s position as the go-to receiver for the Bills and opens the door for Roscoe Parrish to step up and claim a starting job. Parrish is still not worthy of a fantasy football roster spot and the biggest impact of Evans being traded may be an increased role for C.J. Spiller. Spiller has the skills and versatility to line up in the slot and could see his fantasy value increase especially in points per reception leagues. Spiller was drafted as an RB2 last season but had a disappointing season ceding carries to Fred Jackson. Look for the Bills to incorporate Spiller in to a Reggie Bush type role, allowing him to get about 15 touches per game.
Earlier in free agency the Bills went out and signed former New York Jets do-everything player Brad Smith. Smith’s biggest value is in the return game. If you play in an especially deep league or get credit for return yards Smith may be late-round flier, but in normal formats he merely a fantasy afterthought.
Miami Dolphins - The Dolphins’ key acquisition was the addition of running back Reggie Bush. Bush had carved out a niche in New Orleans when he was healthy and hopes to earn more of a feature role in Miami. Don’t read too much in to Bush’s placement atop the depth chart. The Dolphins drafted Daniel Thomas out of Kansas State in the second round with the intention of having him as their workhorse back. Thomas has the size and build to be a feature back in the NFL, and he will likely end up with many more carries than Bush throughout the season. Project Bush as a reserve running back in points per reception leagues and cross your fingers that he can stay healthy.
New England Patriots – It is easy to get caught up in the sound bite that is Chad Ochocinco and overlook the fact that he is not an elite NFL receiver at this stage in his career. While he is certainly entertaining and productive he is not a building block for your fantasy football team. Ochocinco is the latest diva to head to New England in search of a Super Bowl ring and is saying all the right things during camp. His calling card has always been his route running and while that will endear him to Tom Brady, the Patriots offensive calling card is spreading the ball around. As the season wears on it remains to be seen how a lack of targets will endear the Patriots to Ochocinco.
For all his antics, Ochocinco has never been in any real trouble and will fall in line with the Patriots in attempting to cap his career off with a ring. If you target him based on production over name recognition then someone else will likely snatch Ochocinco up before you are willing to spend a pick on him. I have him slated as a high-end WR3 with the potential to turn in WR2 production. Draft with 70 receptions, 900 yards and eight touchdowns in mind.
New York Jets – The Jets played receiver roulette, allowing Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith to go elsewhere, while signing Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason as replacements. Burress is already on the sidelines with a sprained ankle after missing the last two years while in jail. Burress has had a nice career and made some big catches and his size makes him a red zone threat but his age and time away from the game have to be considered as well. In his last season with the Giants, Burress played in 10 games catching 35 balls for 454 yards and four touchdowns. If he were able to play in all 16 games (a long shot) and produce 80 percent of his 2008 numbers his line is 45 receptions, 581 yards, five touchdowns. In other words, he is not a guy who has a place on your fantasy football team.
Derrick Mason is one of those guys who brings much more value to their NFL team than they do your fantasy football team. Mason is a vet possession receiver who has managed to put together a nice career over a couple of stops, and could have one last hurrah in points per reception leagues. The Jets say they are committed to getting Mason involved. Keep an eye on his role early and react accordingly.
Denver Broncos – Willis McGahee enters the Broncos’ backfield alongside Knowshon Moreno for new head coach John Fox who is well known for his commitment to the run. Moreno has not endeared himself to the team in his time there, but enters this offseason with a renewed commitment, and McGahee has a lot of miles on his tires, leaving him as nothing more than a cheap source of touchdowns at this stage in his career.
The departure of Jabar Gaffney opens the door for Eddie Royal to get more looks. I look for a solid 70 receptions, 800 yards, six touchdowns from Royal and he will make a solid reserve and bye week fill in for your fantasy team.
Kansas City Chiefs – The Chiefs did not make any notable pickups in free agency. Steve Breaston was added but appears to be the third receiver behind Dwayne Bowe and rookie Jonathan Baldwin. If Breaston can claim a starting role he would have late-round fantasy value, but right now my advice is to pass on him.
Oakland Raiders – The Raiders added tight end Kevin Boss to replace Zach Miller. Boss is a better blocker and capable receiver, but he is a slight downgrade from Miller in the fantasy world. Boss is a last-resort starter but quality backup or bye week fill in if the matchup is right.
San Diego Chargers – The Chargers did not have any subtractions or additions of fantasy relevance this offseason.
The Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts enter the 2011 season with very little changes to their roster that will affect your fantasy football choices on draft day. Here is a look at the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans and the moves they made.
Jacksonville Jaguars – The Jaguars saw Mike Sims-Walker leave this offseason and now the door is open for another receiver to step up and claim a prominent role. Mike Thomas seems like the best candidate to have a solid fantasy season. If you take the approach that someone has to catch the ball for the Jaguars then you will want to roll the dice on Thomas and snag him as a WR4 option for your team.
Jason Hill should get the starting nod opposite Thomas but is a long shot to put up quality numbers. Hill’s four-year cumulative numbers only add up to that of a bottom tier fantasy reserve. I only mention him here as a guy to have on your radar should he demonstrate the ability to perform in his new starting role.
Tennessee Titans – The Titans parted ways with Vince Young and look to start a rebuilding process lead by their first-round draft pick Jake Locker. Ideally, Locker will be allowed to sit and learn this season and the Titans signed quarterback Matt Hasselbeck in hopes of having him mentor Locker. Hasselbeck will not register on fantasy rosters this season, but his presence helps stabilize the offense and will boost the value of Kenny Britt. Britt appears to have avoided a suspension for his offseason troubles, and if he can keep his nose clean throughout the season he should be a dependable WR2 in most formats. Britt is a big-play receiver and has slightly lower value in points per reception leagues, but he should turn in 65 yards, 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns this season.
Keep an eye Chris Johnson’s holdout and be prepared to give some consideration to Javon Ringer or Jamie Harper should this contract mess drag on. Both have shown flashes and could have fantasy value if they are able to steal a few starts away and carve out a role early in the season.
Baltimore Ravens – Ray Rice’s value got a boost when the Ravens signed fullback Vonta Leach to open holes for him to wiggle through. Rice is already a Top 5 back and this move just solidifies his position as such. You can draft Rice in the mid-first round with confidence.
Lee Evans was acquired in a trade with the Buffalo Bills and he should step right in and start opposite Anquan Boldin. Evans is no longer is a fantasy starter but his new setting and role project him as a quality backup and good WR4 option.
Cleveland Browns – The Browns really made no significant moves to affect your fantasy football consideration. Brandon Jackson joins Cleveland and should be in the back of your head if he can win the backup job away from Montario Hardesty and if Peyton Hillis were to get injured. If not … well, now you know which sideline Jackson will be on this season.
Cincinnati Bengals – If I have to find something to write about the Bengals and their spot in fantasy football, and it can’t be to start your players against them, then I will have to focus on their first-round draft pick A.J. Green. Green enters the NFL with high expectations, and with the departure of Chad Ochocinco the door is wide open for Green to start and contribute. What those contributions amount to remains a major question mark.
The Bengals look to have rookie Andy Dalton starting at quarterback and early indications are that he will be challenged to stay upright and throw the ball to anybody. Green will be overvalued and a trendy pick due to name recognition but I don’t expect more than 55 receptions, 700 yards, six touchdowns this season. If you can grab Green as a reserve go for it, but you will likely have to overpay to have him on your fantasy team this season.
Pittsburgh Steelers – The Steelers signed former New York Jet Jericho Cotchery last week and he joins a crowded receiving corp. Cotchery could have value as a veteran possession receiver if he is able to get on the field regularly. Mike Wallace and Hines Ward are entrenched and will get the primary targets. I wouldn’t draft Cotchery, but keep him on a short list of candidates to add should he come out strong early.
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